Alicia Hawkins, Sudbury

In 2006 Laurentian University and University of Toronto students were excavating at the Thomson-Walker site in Simcoe County. This is a large Huron-Wendat village located on an Ontario Heritage Trust property. I clearly remember the day that one of the students came rushing over to me holding this artifact on her outstretched hands. At first glance, the artifact was interesting because it is relatively intact. But over time, the piece has gained more significance in my mind. The iron portion of the tool is an “off-set awl” that would have been traded by the French to the Wendat. It is set into a handle made from a foot bone of a dog, and the fashioning of the handle would almost certainly have been carried out by Wendat artisan. Several years later my students were identifying animal bones from a site that dates to 300 years before the French arrival in Huronia, and they found a very similar tool, but with a metal point made of copper.

This object makes me think more about the Wendat relationship with and conception of animals. As I identify animal bones from an archaeological site, I perceive them mostly as the remains of food refuse. But they are so much more. Animals bones also served as tools, such as you see here. And this awl was almost certainly used in hide working, reminding us that animals provided more than meat. And the importance of animals to Wendat peoples is underscored by the respect accorded to animals in Wendat belief systems. Animals were seen as “other than human persons” who had souls, who could exercise choice, and who were helpers to the Wendat peoples. This respectful attitude can serve as an example to all of us today.

This story's themes